Night of Firsts
December 5, 2007
Last night was the first night of Hanukkah and we had two of our favorite dining companions over to have dinner and light the candles. Since moving back to Chicago, we usually celebrate Hanukkah with a dinner at my husband’s parents’ house. In other words, I’ve never had the occasion to cook for this holiday. And this year, I have not only one excuse (dinner last night) but two (we’ll be having Kevins’ parents and some relatives for dinner on Sunday night, too!). I had a whole new world of recipes open to me and man, was I excited.
In addition to being the first night of Hanukkah and the first time I’ve cooked a meal to celebrate the holiday, it was also the first real snow in Chicago. The first not-so-real snow came on Saturday, yes the day of our cocktail party. On Saturday, I glared out the window as I stirred the sangria pitcher, convinced that Mother Nature was trying to derail our festivities. But yesterday, I was happy to see the flakes fall. You see, I had a brisket braising away in the oven by the time the storm rolled in. And is if that weren’t hearty and comforting enough, I was also trying out a new soup: butternut squash and apple soup.
For dessert, I baked a batch of rugelach (first time!), the recipe and photos for which I am very excited to share with you soon. You might be asking yourself about the notable Hanukkah staple missing from the menu: Latkes. Well, shame on you for even asking. Come on, it was a Tuesday! And I’d been braising a brisket for hours!! There was no way I was undertaking a major operation like Latkes. No, those will have to wait until Sunday.
Luckily, the soup, brisket, simply dressed spicy greens and rugelach were so good that no one missed the latkes (at least, I hope not). The soup, which required a number of modifications (as I was warned by the commenters on Epicurious, as always), was lovely: velvety, smoky and a brilliant orange. While I pre-roasted the butternut squash flesh, I also toasted up some of its seeds. Along with a dollop of Greek yogurt, they were the perfect garnish, adding some nutiness and crunch. And the brisket … oh, the brisket. I’m a sucker for braised meat and it was about time I tried a brisket (another first!). This Zinfandel-braised version was delicious–tender, aromatic and just as fall-apart-good as brisket should be (though, in my opinion, not quite as good as my mother-in-law’s excellent brisket).
Happy Hanukkah! And to those in Chicago, happy first snow!
Butternut Squash and Apple Soup with Bacon
2 slices bacon*
1/2 medium onion, chopped fine (about 1/2 cup)
white and pale green parts of 1 large leek, chopped fine and washed well (about 1 cup)
1 large garlic clove, minced
1/2 bay leaf
1 1/4 pounds butternut squash, seeded, peeled, and cut into 1-inch pieces (about 3 cups)*
1 medium Granny Smith or other tart apple
2 cups low-salt chicken broth
1/2 cup water plus additional for thinning soup*
2 tablespoons sour cream or crème fraîche*
Sour cream or crème fraîche*
chopped unpeeled apple*
In a skillet cook bacon until crisp and drain, reserving 1 1/2 tablespoons fat. Crumble bacon. In a heavy saucepan cook onion, leek, garlic, and bay leaf with salt and pepper to taste in reserved fat over moderate heat, stirring, until softened.
Add squash, apple, peeled and chopped, broth, and 1/2 cup water. Simmer mixture, covered, until squash is very tender, about 15 minutes, and discard bay leaf.
In a blender purée mixture in batches, transferring as puréed to a clean saucepan, and add enough additional water to thin soup to desired consistency. Whisk in sour cream or crème fraîche and salt and pepper to taste and heat soup over moderately low heat until hot (do not boil).
Serve soup topped with crumbled bacon and accompaniments.
* As I said, I made a number of adjustments: I omitted bacon all together; I pre-roasted the squash (peel; de-seed; cube; toss in olive oil, salt and pepper; roast for about 30 minutes at 400 degrees); I used white wine instead of water for thinning; I added spices (1 T. cumin, 1 tsp. cinnamon, ½ tsp. ground ginger, ¼ tsp. all spice); I used Greek yogurt in place of sour cream or crème fraîche).
Zinfandel-Braised Beef Brisket with Onions and Potatoes
2 cups zinfandel or other fruity dry red wine
1/2 cup fat-free, less-sodium chicken broth
1/4 cup tomato paste
1 (2 1/2-pound) beef brisket, trimmed
2 teaspoons salt, divided
1/2 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper, divided
8 cups sliced Walla Walla or other sweet onion (about 4 medium)
2 tablespoons sugar
1 1/4 teaspoons dried thyme, divided
6 garlic cloves, thinly sliced
2 carrots, peeled and cut into (1/2-inch-thick) slices
2 celery stalks, cut into (1/2-inch-thick) slices
1 1/2 pounds small red potatoes, cut into quarters
1 1/2 teaspoons extravirgin olive oil
1 teaspoon dried oregano
1/4 teaspoon ground red pepper
Chopped fresh parsley
Preheat oven to 325°. Combine first 3 ingredients, stirring with a whisk.
Heat a large Dutch oven over medium-high heat. Sprinkle beef with 3/4 teaspoon salt and 1/4 teaspoon black pepper. Coat pan with cooking spray. Add beef to pan; cook for 8 minutes, browning on all sides. Remove beef from pan; cover and set aside.
Add 1/2 teaspoon salt, 1/4 teaspoon black pepper, onion, sugar, and 1 teaspoon thyme to pan. Cook 20 minutes or until onions are tender and golden brown, stirring occasionally. Add garlic, carrots, and celery; cook 5 minutes, stirring occasionally. Place beef on top of onion mixture; pour wine mixture over beef. Cover and place in oven.
Bake at 325° for 1 3/4 hours.
While beef mixture cooks, place potatoes in a large bowl. Add 3/4 teaspoon salt, 1/4 teaspoon thyme, oil, oregano, and red pepper; toss to coat. Arrange in a single layer on a jelly-roll pan coated with cooking spray.
Remove beef from oven; turn beef over. Place potatoes on lower rack in oven. Cover beef; return to oven. Bake potatoes and beef at 325° for 45 minutes or until beef is tender. Remove beef from oven; cover and keep warm. Increase oven temperature to 425°. Place potatoes on middle rack in oven; bake at 425° for 15 minutes or until crisp and edges are browned.
Remove beef from pan; cut across the grain into thin slices. Serve with onion mixture and potatoes. Sprinkle with parsley.